Wesley Smith alerted me to an article in the Winnipeg Free Press (Canada) by Dr. Joel B. Zivot, an associate professor in the department of anesthesiology at the University of Manitoba in Canada.  Dr. Zivot writes about “Baby Isaiah,” a child born with brain damage due to the lack of oxygen during a long birthing process.  Unable to breathe regularly on his own, the baby is hooked up to a ventilator.  A legal battle has ensued when the parents were told last month by Alberta Health Services that all treatment would be withdrawn for baby Isaiah, and that such an action was “medically reasonable, ethically responsible and appropriate.”  Dr. Zivot’s words get to the heart of the debate over human value, showing just why we need to avoid making subjective “quality of life” assessments to determine who should live and who should die:

As a physician, I specialize in the management of the weak and disabled. My task is clear: restore an individual’s health if I am able, and protect my patient’s rights as a human being. … Although the issue before the court is the degree of brain injury incurred by Isaiah, I realize that it is Isaiah’s status as a human being that is on trial. In contemporary thought, once born, humanity is considered automatic and should not be revoked by disability. The yardstick of being a human being is set too high for Isaiah. Discussion on the prediction of degree of disability, including mental capacity, is not relevant as are counter-arguments based on the physical appearance of normalcy. All that really matters, to be blunt, is if Isaiah is dead or alive. … If Isaiah is alive, which includes everything but brain dead, he is entitled to the full rights and privileges of any living Canadian citizen.

As a physician, I am profoundly concerned that I am allowed by college decree, or worse, potentially by statute, to take a life, as an agent of the state. I refuse to be a selector. My moral obligation as a physician demands that I not participate in the debate except to say that I treat all human beings the same. This rationing debate feels like code to me for something more sinister. There is no more important consideration to me than guarding against the abuse of my professional power in the way that I deal with vulnerable people who seek my care.

Yes, Baby Isaiah’s status as a human is on trial.  Whereas in the past it was taken for granted that all humans were valuable and worthy of life in virtue of being human, that notion is increasingly questioned and disregarded by the intelligencia in favor of a functional view of human value.  Now our value is based on a set of arbitrary characteristics.  If you’ve got them, great.  But if you don’t, you are considered unworthy of life and you can be killed.  This shift is a scary one, because when a few individuals are able to define who is valuable and who is not—who gets to live and who doesn’t—every one of our lives are at risk.  If value can be arbitrarily defined in terms of function, you better hope no one decides to add a function to the list that you may not have!

Baby Isaiah is not dying.  Baby Isaiah is not choosing to die.  Neither are Baby Isaiah’s parents choosing to remove his care.  Instead, others are attempting to force the removal of his care.  That is scary!  Even if you think he’s better off dead (God help you), it should scare you to know a small band of “ethics advisors” and the government get to determine his fate, and their decision even trumps the wishes of the parents.  This is not about choice, but anti-choice.

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